Nine years of war in Syria and the humanitarian catastrophe is far from overPublished: Mar 11, 2020 Reading time: 8 minutes
Syria, March 12, 2020 – On March 15, the war in Syria will enter its 10th year. In the nine years since the conflict began, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, and millions have lost their relatives, homes, livelihoods, and access to healthcare or education. But despite the long timeline of despair, the war’s worst humanitarian crisis is currently underway.
Almost one million people have been displaced in northwest Syria during the last three months alone, and there are still acute needs in other parts of the country. In our #9YearsIn9seconds campaign, we ask you to dedicate nine seconds to the people whose lives have been permanently upended by this devastating fight.
People in Need was among the first humanitarian organizations to respond to the crisis in Syria; our work there began in 2012. Currently, we are on the ground supporting 200,000 people every month.
Figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) show that 11.1 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 6.1 million are internally displaced. As the crisis in northwest Syria continues, these numbers are expected to rise. Of course, these are not just data points, but actual people, and each one has their own story of suffering.
We asked Azzam, Fatima, and Mosa, all living in northwest Syria, where they were nine years ago and how their life has changed since then. Their stories are different but they share a simple wish: each longs to return home to their villages and to live the peaceful lives they now struggle to remember.
“My name is Azzam Obaid and I am from the northern countryside of Hama. I have five children between the ages of five and 20. They used to go to school in the village, but here, there is no school.
Everything has changed over the last nine years. Mainly, we’ve lost our land and our source of income. Nine years ago, we had a large piece of land that I cultivated with potatoes and wheat. It used to yield almost 50,000 [Syrian] pounds in profit, which was a great amount at that time. I was able to provide for my family and our quality of life was perfect. Now, we have lost everything, and we depend on humanitarian aid and what benefactors offer us. My children are no longer going to school, as there are none here. We feel that we have lost our dignity and have been humiliated, being forced to live away from our homes.
The most important thing for me is to return home, sit outside and breathe the clean and healthy air of the village. I am 45 years old and I cannot even imagine being displaced for the coming years. My life is fleeting; I just want to sit in front of my home and smell the breeze. Being displaced is bitter and humiliating. One never feels comfortable; it is unpleasant even with all the people around, because everything is difficult for everyone. I know up to 10 men who have died of heart attacks because of fear and anxiety.
I do not think the beautiful days of the past will return. I feel I will never be as comfortable and happy as before. Things might be better in the near future, but we will always feel the stress of knowing that nothing is stable and that we have seen what poverty is. Health, family and safety are what matter the most to me right now.”
“My name is Fatima and I am from a village in the southeastern countryside of Idlib. Nine years ago, we were living in our village, as we had always done. I have no children, so I was living with my mother. In 2011, things were perfect, and we were very happy. We were at home and nothing was missing.
We first left our home six years ago. Since that first time [we were forced to flee], we have always moved with my brother and his family. My mom, who was 75 years old at the time, had a heart attack a few weeks later because of the fear and anxiety she felt. There was heavy shelling with rocket launchers and warplanes, and it was very dangerous. Before we left, there was an airstrike nearby that wounded me on the head, thank God it was not severe. I put my hand up to cover my face and felt the blood flowing. I started to run away in fear, but I fell and broke my leg.
We moved to a village in the southern countryside of Idlib where we stayed for a month. We took nothing with us as we thought we would be able to go back after several days. We stayed there for only one month as we could not afford to rent a home. Later, we moved to another village where a benefactor offered us some wood pillars, blankets, and tarpaulins that we used to make a tent. This time, my brother was not with us and I had to work in farming to sustain my mother and myself. I had to buy medicines for my mother that cost me 2,000 [Syrian] pounds every week.
A year later, there was heavy shelling in the area and we moved again, this time to the western countryside of Aleppo. We had to move for a fourth time as there were airstrikes and shelling, until we arrived in the northern countryside of Idlib, where an NGO offered us two tents and we managed to shelter the whole family. I got a tent for my mother and I, and a tent for my brother and his family.
I truly hope we can return to living in our village, and I wish the same for the rest of the [displaced] people. I want this bloodshed to stop and I don’t want to see any more killing.”
“My name is Mosa and I am from a village in the southern countryside of Idlib. I have eight children. In 2011, my family and I were living in the village and things were very good. However, in August 2012, my home was destroyed in an airstrike that hit it directly. It was the first time a warplane had struck our village. Most of my family was outside; only my 15-year-old son, Ali, was home at the time of the attack. He was severely injured. We took him to the hospital, where I paid the bills using all of my savings. I had saved more than 1.5 million Syrian pounds to buy a truck, but I spent most of it on my son’s treatments and surgeries. At that time, there were no hospitals supported by NGOs, so I had to take him to private hospitals.
In general, things have changed from perfect to very bad and I think this is true for all the people here. In 2011, I was planning to enable my children to continue with their studies, help them get married, and even buy them cars of their own. But in late 2012 and 2013, things changed and suddenly, I did not even have enough money to buy bread. After my home was hit in 2012, we left for the nearby mountains, where we built a small room with a kitchen to shelter the family. During the nine years of war, my previous home was often the target of attacks due its location in the village center, close to a school.
I used to have a minibus and I made a good income. We lived a very good life, until I became unable to continue working due to the security situation. I lost my job and my source of income. As the security situation worsened, I became really stressed; I couldn’t even be a good friend to my friends and I couldn’t properly host them at home. Buying the most urgent and basic things we needed was a burden. Later, I sold a small piece of land and with that money I bought some sheep.
We left our home in the village in September 2019 as more than 100 shells hit the surrounding area and we could not bear it. This is the first time I have lived in a tent and I hope it will be over soon. That said, I hope that no one asks me to leave or find somewhere else to live. I feel lost when I see how my family used to be and what we have become. I really feel that we are lost.”
People in Need in Syria
The assistance provided by People in Need in Syria spans multiple sectors, including food aid and agricultural support, the provision of employment opportunities, educational support, and help with the rehabilitation of water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure. Our holistic approach means that we focus both on highly vulnerable displaced populations and the communities who host them.
We would like to thank everyone in the Czech Republic who donated to our SOS Syria appeals, Real Gigt, or via PIN’s Club of Friends. Funding has also been generously provided by European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the European Union Neighborhood Instrument (ENI), the Swiss government, the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the United States Office of Food for Peace (FFP), the UK government, UNICEF, and the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For more information, please contact:
Tomáš Kocian, People in Need’s Regional Director for the Middle East, +420 777 787 970, email@example.com